Glossary on Migration


This 248-page publication compiles definitions of terms on the “conceptual, legal, theoretical or practical” aspects of migration. The Glossary was published on June 18, 2019, by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Geneva, an intergovernmental organisation within the United Nations system. This edition of the Glossary includes new terms – such as ‘climate migration’ and ‘disaster displacement’ – to reflect the evolving discourse around migration. It draws definitions from a range of sources, such as United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ Master Glossary of Terms (2006); European Migration Network’s Asylum and Migration Glossary 3.0 (2014); and UNESCO’s Glossary of Migration related Terminology (2013). In curating definitions from these diverse sources, the Glossary attempts to develop and promote “coherent exchange of information” among stakeholders.

Each entry in this glossary comprises a term, its definition, a source from which the definition has been gleaned (when not developed by IOM), relational terms to facilitate cross-referencing, and a note for complex definitions.

The following are a few selected terms and their (excerpted) definitions which remain especially relevant to the present times:

Asylum: The grant, by a State, of protection on its territory to persons outside their country of nationality or habitual residence, who are fleeing persecution or serious harm or for other reasons.

Biometrics: Automated means of identifying an individual through the measurement of distinguishing physiological or behavioural traits such as fingerprints, face, iris, retina or ear features.

Boundary: An imaginary line that determines the territorial limits of a State.

Circular migration: A form of migration in which people repeatedly move back and forth between two or more countries.

Climate migration: The movement of a person or groups of persons who, predominantly for reasons of sudden or progressive change in the environment due to climate change, are obliged to leave their habitual place of residence, or choose to do so, either temporarily or permanently, within a State or across an international border.

Contiguous zone: A maritime area contiguous to the territorial sea of a coastal State not extending beyond the 24 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured.

Detention centre (migration): A specialized facility used for the detention of migrants with the primary purpose of facilitating administrative measures such as identification, processing of a claim or enforcing a removal order.

Displacement: The movement of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters.

Domicile: The place at which a person is physically present and that the person regards as home; a person’s true, fixed, principal, and permanent home, to which that person intends to return and remain even though currently residing elsewhere.

Host community: A national or local community in which displaced persons temporarily reside.

Indigenous people: People in independent countries who are regarded as indigenous on account of their descent from the populations which inhabited the country, or a geographical region to which the country belongs, at the time of conquest or colonization or the establishment of present State boundaries and who, irrespective of their legal status, retain some or all of their own social, economic, cultural and political institutions.

Internal migrant: Any person who is moving or has moved within a State for the purpose of establishing a new temporary or permanent residence or because of displacement.

International migrant: Any person who is outside a State of which he or she is a citizen or national, or, in the case of a stateless person, his or her State of birth or habitual residence.

Mass evacuation: The evacuation of whole communities, neighbourhoods or geographical areas.

Migrant: An umbrella term, not defined under international law, reflecting the common lay understanding of a person who moves away from his or her place of usual residence, whether within a country or across an international border, temporarily or permanently, and for a variety of reasons.

Migrant worker: A person who is to be engaged, is engaged or has been engaged in a remunerated activity in a State of which he or she is not a national.

Pastoralism: A livelihood strategy based on moving livestock to seasonal pastures primarily in order to convert grasses, forbs, tree-leaves, or crop residues into human food.

Refugee (1951 Convention): A person who, owing to a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.

Rural–urban migration: The movement of people from a rural to an urban area for the purpose of establishing a new residence.

Short-term migrant: A person who changes his or her place of usual residence for more than three months but less than a year (12 months).

Focus by Dipanjali Singh.


Editors: Alice Sironi, Céline Bauloz and Milen Emmanuel


International Organization for Migration, Geneva


18 Jun, 2019